By KEVIN HARRIS
Ever since he competed in his first ARCA Racing Series race in 1990, Frank Kimmel has been rewriting the series’ record book.
In his 23-year ARCA career, the Clarksville native has won a series-record nine season championships, which includes an ARCA-record eight titles in a row from 2000-07.
No ARCA driver has led more laps on superspeedways in series history than Kimmel, and no one has one more ARCA superspeedway poles than the Borden resident.
On top of that, Kimmel has collected more all-time earnings than any ARCA driver ever, as he has received more than $4 million in his career.
Last Sunday at Winchester Speedway in Eastern Indiana, Kimmel tied one of the most significant records in the history of the 60-year-old series.
Kimmel led a race-high 158 laps to win the Herr’s Chase The Taste 200. The victory was the 79th of his stellar career and deadlocked himself with ARCA legend and six-time series champion Iggy Katona for first place on ARCA’s all-time wins list.
In the closing laps at Winchester while attempting to tie the Katona’s career wins mark, Kimmel had to fight off the thoughts of making history.
“I was thinking about tying Iggy, but then I got focused and got back to business,” said Kimmel, whose father, three-time ARCA race winner Bill Kimmel Sr., raced against Katona in the 1950s and 60s. “I never thought we could win five or 10 races [in his career]. It was a good day for everybody.”
Kimmel said the closing stages of the race got pretty stressful thanks to Austin Wayne Self. The 17-year-old from Austin, Texas, charged to the front throughout the race. With 10 laps to go and Kimmel leading, Self got his No. 22 Dodge to within two car lengths of Kimmel. But Self could not get any closer, as Kimmel won the race by .319 seconds.
“It was an interesting point of the race,” said Kimmel, who celebrated in Victory Lane with his wife Donna, daughter Holly and his ThorSport Racing crew. “We were good on fresh ties, but the 22 car was coming on at the end. I just wanted to be smooth and smart at the end.”
One of Kimmel’s biggest supporters during his quest to become ARCA’s all-time winner was Ron Katona, Iggy Katona’s son. Ron Katona, who lives in Port Orange, Fla., which is a few miles south of Daytona Beach, has been sending text messages to Kimmel during the former ARCA champion’s most recent victories.
Ron Katona says Kimmel and his late father have some similarities.
“He takes care of his equipment like my dad. He strikes me as a person that if you got a car that can go to the front, you take it to the front,” Ron Katona said. “It would be interesting to see what would happen if they raced each other.”
Ron Katona is happy that Kimmel has tied his father’s all-time wins mark and wishes the Southern Indiana native good luck in trying to break the mark later this season.
“I’m proud of Frank for doing that. He‘s a pretty nice guy,” said the younger Katona, who usually sees Kimmel when ARCA races at Daytona International Speedway every February. “Records are made to be broken.”
Kimmel’s first chance to surpass Iggy Katona will be in the ActivArmr 150 on Sunday, July 21 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Kimmel won at the mile-and-a-half track in 2003. In fact, Kimmel has won at nine of the next 11 tracks on the ARCA schedule.
“We’ve got to go back and get ready for Chicago. We’re going to try real hard to break it in the last few races,” Kimmel said. “Our mile-and-a-half program is good. We’ll see what happens when we get there.”
But Kimmel, by no means, believes another victory in the future is money in the bank. He knows in racing that anything can happen and prevent him from becoming ARCA’s all-time wins leader.
“Winchester could’ve been our last win,” Kimmel said. “I’ve been very lucky. Tying the record is great, and to break it would be a special moment. But our goal is just to win the next race. We’ve got to make sure our pit stops are good, hope the motor doesn’t blow up and the car handles well.”
While attempting to set the series’ career victories mark, Kimmel is trying to become the only ARCA driver to win 10 season championships. Kimmel, who has not won an ARCA title since 2007, currently leads the ARCA standings by 175 points over second-place Mason Mingus.
“We’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Kimmel said. “We’ve got to be consistent. We’ve got some race tracks coming up that we’re good at.”
Kimmel is in his second year with ThorSport Racing, which has competed in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for several years with drivers Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton. Actually, it is ThorSport Racing’s second season ever competing full-time in the ARCA series.
Kimmel thinks he, crew chief Jeriod Prince and the rest of the No. 44 Toyota team have gelled together this season. ThorSport has gotten accustomed to the ARCA cars and the Hoosier tires used in the series. The Camping World Truck Series uses Goodyear tires.
“They are learning about me and the Hoosier tire. They’re more familiar with the race cars,” Kimmel said. “They believe a lot in me, and I believe a lot in them.”
FRANK KIMMEL BY THE NUMBERS
* 8: Consecutive ARCA Racing Series championships from 2000-07, series record
* 9: Career ARCA championships, series record
* 20: Consecutive ARCA seasons finished in top 10 in standings
* 42: Career ARCA poles
* 79: Career ARCA victories, tied for series record
* 254: Career ARCA top-five finishes
* 342: Career ARCA top-10 finishes
* 457: Career ARCA starts